Cinema Review: Calvary



DIR/WRI: John Michael McDonagh  • PRO: Chris Clark, Flora Fernandez-Marengo, James Flynn • DOP: Larry Smith • ED: Chris Gill • MUS: Patrick Cassidy • DES: Mark Geraghty • CAST: Aidan Gillen, Brendan Gleeson, Kelly O’ Reilly, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Dylan Moran, Killian Scott


Village priest Father James Lavelle finds himself offered up as a sacrificial lamb when a victim of sexual abuse, now grown, decides that killing an innocent priest will send a better message than disposing of a guilty one. Granted seven days to “put his house in order”, Lavelle embarks on a stumbling Stations of the Cross through an unrepentant parish only too happy to parade their sins before him, and trade every attempted benediction for yet another barb.

John Michael McDonagh’s much-anticipated follow-up to first feature The Guard, Calvary certainly aims to shake audience expectations, evidenced scarcely five seconds into the opening scene when our faceless parishioner delivers his ultimatum.  However, while certainly sharing the biting humour and self-awareness of its predecessor, the irreverence here is aimed not so much towards tweaking the nose, as it is towards a close and often uncomfortable scrutiny of spirituality in the modern day.

What follows is a search for meaning that meanders between comedy and tragedy, anchored by Gleeson’s most compelling performance yet as a shepherd doomed to spend his (potentially) final days tending a flock of black sheep. A widower and former alcoholic, Lavelle was world-weary before he came to the cloth and finds himself growing increasingly frustrated as his attempts to offer comfort and guidance are consistently thrown back in his face by residents of an unnamed Sligo village that often seems McDonagh’s version of a small-town Sodom.

Filling out alongside Gleeson, McDonagh’s cast boasts a rogues’ gallery of Irish talent – Dylan Moran’s embittered banker, Killian Scott’s aspiring sociopath and Kelly O’ Reilly as Lavelle’s grown daughter – all worthy of particular note. Solid performances are tied together by a haunting score and enough gorgeous landscape shots to make any Fáilte Ireland employee weep shamrocks.

While the meandering script and a slightly cluttered cast contribute to a third act that begins to lose momentum, any doubts are quickly dismissed by a confident and compelling conclusion. The critic’s knee-jerk reaction to pan McDonagh’s sophomore effort as self-indulgent is ultimately stifled by the sense that a few bum notes do little to impact the overall piece, and that this notion of throwing the baby out with the bathwater is exactly the type of reductive cynicism that Calvary rails against.

If The Guard is a deconstruction of genre and our notion of “Oirishness”, Calvary is the follow-up that aims to strip away the cynicism that has become so embroiled in Irish spirituality simply to see what is left. Half-critique, half-homage but feeling all-organically Irish, Calvary will likely secure a place amongst one of Ireland’s most talked-about films  and, if nothing else, affords us yet another opportunity  to bow down in worship of the craggy island that is Mr. Gleeson’s well-worn visage. Hallelujah.


Ruairí Moore

15A (See IFCO for details)
100 mins

Calvary is released on 11th April 2014

Calvary– Official Website


Interview: Brendan Gleeson and John Michael McDonagh, ‘Calvary’



Lorna Buttimer chats to John Michael McDonagh, writer/director of Calvary and its star Brendan Gleeson ahead of the film’s release in Irish cinemas.

John Michael McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson clearly get on well. Calvary is their second feature together, and it sees the two tackle the Sligo landscape to portray the life of Father James, the kindly priest who learns by confession that a parishioner plans to murder him in retribution for the crimes of the Catholic Church in seven days’ time. Not knowing if the threat is real, the priest tries to put right the many problems in his small rural community, and reconnect with his estranged daughter (Kelly Reilly) before his possible murder.

Gleeson, of course, plays Father James, the player upon the Sligo stage. ‘Father Jamo’, in Gleeson’s words, is someone aware of his particular uniform. But what separates him from his peers is the fact that he is a ‘modern creature’. ‘Like when Jesus knocks the hell out of the money guys in the temple and kicks them out, it seems to me that Father James comes from that line. There is a rage in him about the self-serving, petty mindlessness of it all,’ claims Gleeson.

Father James comes to the Catholic Church after a marriage, a child and a troubled life with alcohol. In Gleeson’s view, these experiences make his character stand apart. ‘It gives him a personal life, a personal history. Father James has been in the world; he has had contact with stuff maybe other priests don’t have.”.

As a result of such experience, Father James is able to reach out to his parishioners and through that, maybe discover who wants him dead. ‘John said I was more or less a Samurai in a way. And the funny thing was when I went to get fitted for the vestments I got a real weird goose-bumpy, tingly kind of a thing, where it was like a suit of armour, and you’re the protectorate of all things good. I wasn’t prepared for it or didn’t expect it.

‘And that’s what he does – he goes and he takes on the forces of despair and he’s fighting his own temptation of despair quite a lot too. Rather than someone who went into the church naively, he understands how dark it can be and the temptation to go into despair. He becomes a lightning rod for everyone else’s disillusionment and they try their hardest to break him. But in the end they don’t really want to break him at all; they want their own cynicism to be overturned by his belief.’

The film is marked by its use of location. Shot in Sligo, both are keen to emphasise how the film flourished under Ben Bulben’s deep shadow. ‘The locations are very important, you know, Galway was very important on The Guard and Sligo was very important on this one,’ says McDonagh.

‘It has a real bearing on how everybody interacts,’ elaborates Gleeson, ‘and just the way people carry themselves. It’s only working when you feel part of the place. And you can see that in the film – you really can.’

With smaller budgets, crews and time, sometimes Irish films don’t make it to the actual location. For Gleeson, this is a huge mistake. ‘You’re going to get the counter argument that if you go to a location it’s a day to travel and a day to travel back and if you’re trying to keep to budgets that you’re pushing to the limit. There is always the temptation for people to say “sure Wicklow’s just down the corner”. But it has a huge impact on the film – the whole Ben Bulben thing in this, it’s so iconic.’

Speaking about Ireland’s landscape, McDonagh tells how Ryan’s Daughter ‘was a big influence on this and The Guard – the way it’s shot; just beautiful scenes all the way through, scenes that showed how you could shoot Ireland’. He further muses, ‘With Calvary, if you look at all the scenery, you wonder why hasn’t an Irish film been shot there before?’

To answer this, McDonagh recognises that the Irish film industry is perhaps too centralised in Dublin. When budgets and schedules are tight, Wicklow, ‘down around the corner’, is cheap and easy for outdoor locations. For the director this isn’t palatable any longer. ‘That seems to be the default position but it just leads to this kind of visually claustrophobic set of films that are all or mostly set in the Dublin environment,’ and for McDonagh, that doesn’t cut it. Here is a filmmaker that wants to explore, portray and discover what that the Irish landscape has to offer.

Calvary premiered at Sundance. McDonagh says he was delighted with the reaction. ‘There’s the strain of black humour that lasts throughout the movie. I thought about half way through that the audience were going to go ‘Awh this is gonna’ go really dark’ but what happened was, even in the last third of the film, we were still getting laughs and I think it was because certain scenes were just so dark that people just wanted some kind of relief. I was pleased they got the reactions, the rhythms and everything, and I think they grasped quite quickly that the film wasn’t The Guard Take Two’.

And the question on everyone’s lips – will the two work together again? The answer is yes –  it’s already in development. ‘Yeah, we’ve got one more’, reveals McDonagh, ‘I haven’t written it but it’s gonna be about an abusive paraplegic, so Brendan will be in a wheelchair scuttling around South London!’

Calvary is released in cinemas 11th April 2014



On The Reel on the Red Carpet at JDIFF Irish premiere of ‘Calvary’

Check out the video report from the Red Carpet at JDIFF’s Irish premiere of Calvary from our bestest buddies On The Reel in association with Film Ireland.

Lynn Larkin glammed up to meet the stars as they rocked into Dublin’s Savoy cinema for the Irish premiere of John Michael McDonagh’s new film, Calvary, which opened this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Lynn chats to the film’s star, Brendan Gleeson, about being a total legend, and director John Michael McDonagh about assembling such a great cast.

Lynn also gets the low-down on Gleeson from co-star Marie-Josée Croze, asks Dylan Moran about boozing and riding, and chats to Killian Scott and Aidan Gillen about their bromance.

And be sure to catch special guest John Hurt bust a move on the red carpet…


Opening Gala for 2014 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival Announced

Priest (Brendan Gleeson) in Calvary

Calvary – a darkly comic thriller that reunites writer-director John Michael McDonagh and actor Brendan Gleeson has been unveiled as the opening gala for the 2014 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.  The gala will take place at Dublin’s Savoy Cinema on Thursday, 13th February 2014.


Announcing details of the event today, Festival Director Gráinne Humphreys said the opening gala will be a celebration of “the best Irish cinema”.  It will be the Irish premiere of Calvary, and John Michael McDonagh, Brendan Gleeson, Kelly Reilly and other members of the star-studded cast (including some of Ireland’s best-known actors) will be in attendance.  A limited number of tickets will go on sale tomorrow, Wednesday, 18th December, at 10.00am.


In Calvary, Brendan Gleeson stars as Father James, a priest who has a week to put his affairs in order after being told he is marked for murder during a confession.  Set against the stunning beauty of Ireland’s West Coast, the film also stars Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes), Domhnall Gleeson (About Time), Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids), Dylan Moran (Black Books) and Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones).


Commenting further on the 2014 opening gala announcement, Gráinne Humphreys said:


“2014 is going to be a vintage year for Irish cinema with an incredible line-up of new features and documentaries from emerging and established names.  As the 2014 opening night presentation, John Michael McDonagh’s spectacular Calvary will act as both a clarion call for the festival and for Irish cinema.”


The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival will take place from 13th to 23rd February 2014, marking the twelfth year of the festival.  It has become a key annual event in Dublin’s cultural life, growing a strong international reputation and attracting a range of film heavyweights to Ireland over the years.  Over 130 films are screened each year, attracting an audience of 41,000.


Additional Programme Announcements

In addition to unveiling the opening film today, Gráinne Humphreys announced details of the four films that will screen in the hugely popular weekend morning slots at the Savoy Cinema during the festival.  These are:


·         No Limbs, No Limits – An intimate family portrait of young Corkwoman Joanne O’Riordan, who was born with no arms and legs as a result of the extremely rare ‘Total Amelia’ syndrome.  The film – which was directed by O’Riordan’s brother, Steven – will screen at 11am on Saturday, 15th February.

·         Tracks – A beautifully composed and magnificently performed story about a young woman’s nine-month trek across the Australian desert.  It will screen at 11am on Sunday, 16th February.

·         Borgman – An unsettling, blackly comic fable from veteran Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam, which will screen at 11am on Saturday, 22nd February.

·         Twenty Feet from Stardom – A moving and joyous behind-the-scenes documentary about the singers who provide backing vocals to the stars.  It will screen at 11am on Sunday, 23rd February.


“The five films we have announced so far for the 2014 programme give a flavour of the quality and diversity you can expect from this year’s festival,” said Gráinne Humphreys.  “As usual, we’ll be welcoming some of the best-known names in the industry to Dublin during festival season and we’ll be running a range of ancillary events to complement the programme of film screenings.  Further details of our programme will be announced early in the new year.”


Season tickets, gift vouchers and tickets for the weekend morning slots at the Savoy Cinema are on sale now from  A limited number of tickets for the opening gala screening of ‘Calvary’ will go on sale tomorrow, Wednesday, 18th December, at 10.00am. 


RTÉ Concert Orchestra recording Patrick Cassidy’s score to John Michael McDonagh’s ‘Calvary’


The RTÉ Concert Orchestra is back in the recording studio to record Patrick Cassidy’s music for John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary. After the success of The Guard, this eagerly awaited new McDonagh film again stars Brendan Gleeson, this time as a priest in a role described as theflipside to The Guard’s Sergeant Gerry Boyle.


Mayo-born Cassidy, based in Los Angeles, was approached in the summer by a music supervisor there who told him that McDonagh wanted him to write the music. The composer and director talked by phone, then met face to face at the end of the summer to discuss the project and what was needed. As well as the script, McDonagh sent Cassidy some examples of music he liked, to give him a steer – one of the films he sent, for instance, was Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.


This is just the latest project in a film career of distinction for Patrick Cassidy. Notable film credits to date include HannibalVeronica Guerin, Salem’s Lot, King ArthurLayer CakeChe GuevaraAshes and Snow, L’Aviatore and Kingdom of HeavenHis aria Vide Cor Meum from Hannibal has appeared in multiple top-ten lists and essential collections throughout the world; it was the only piece by a living composer on the Warner Classics CD the 40 Most Beautiful Arias. His Funeral March was used in the trailer for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and his Elegy features in the trailer for the upcoming Superman film Man of Steel.


Cassidy’s parallel career as a classical composer has included The Children of Lir, the first major symphonic work written in the Irish language which stayed at No. 1 in the Irish classical charts for over a year, and Famine Remembrance, commissioned to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Famine.


Patrick Cassidy and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra collaborated last year when the orchestra and the Tribal Chamber Choir gave the European premiere of Famine Remembrance to great acclaim in the composer’s native Claremorris. He was delighted with the result, and also enjoyed reconnecting with an Irish orchestra for the first time since he left the country 12 years ago. Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s recording session, he says: ‘The RTÉ Concert Orchestra is an excellent orchestra with a great attitude – the musicians really give it their all.’


Describing the difference between the two styles of working in his career, Cassidy observes that while a composer works alone on classical pieces, writing music for a film is a very much a collaboration. He is always conscious that he has to give the film-maker what he needs, though he pays tribute to the leeway and trust he enjoyed in his relationship with McDonagh. ‘And Calvary is a very good movie, very inspiring – that lends itself to creating good music!’


Michael Fassbender, John Michael McDonagh & Chris O’ Dowd among BAFTA Nominees


Irish actor Michael Fassbender and Irish director John Michael McDonagh were amomg the BAFTA Film Award nominees for 2012 announced today.

Fassbender was nominated for the ‘Leading Actor’ Award for his role in British director Steve McQueen’s latest film Shame.

McDonagh has been nominated in the ‘Original Screenplay’ category for his breakthrough feature film The Guard .

Irish actor Chris O’ Dowd is also up for a nomination as the BAFTA Orange Wednesday Rising Star.

The BAFTAs will take place on 12th February 2012 at London’s Royal Opera House.


'The Guard' at the centre of Sarajevo Storm


John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard is at the centre of a storm that erupted at the Sarajevo Film Festival. Its international programmer Howard Feinstein has resigned over what he saw as a shift of its director Miro Purivatra and its creative director, his wife, Izeta Gradevic towards celebrating celebrity culture over filmmakers and cinema.

The evidence cited by Feinstein included his Q&A with Oscar winning director Susanne Bier taking place without a single photographer present as Angelina Jolie was receiving a ‘Heart of Sarajevo’ award at the same time, and also his fight to include The Guard in the festival’s Panorama section.

In an open letter written by Feinstein and published by he explains more about The Guard’s role in his creative differences with his employers.  Purivatra and Gradevic wanted both Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle to attend the festival but when only director John Michael McDonagh could make it Feinstein states that ‘unbelievably, management wanted to keep him only for the Open Air screening, so he could blow kisses. I had to fight to have him do a Q & A with the Panorama audience. This is that murky area in which cult of (perceived) celebrity and the qualitative characteristics of selections overlapped in a negative way.’

In the days that followed Izeta Gradevic released a statement on behalf of the Sarajevo Film Festival also published in full on  which did not refer to Feinstein’s open letter, but amazingly Feinstein’s airing of dirty linen didn’t stop there as he gets involved in a lengthy mud slinging match with a former employee of the festival in the comments section of the Gradevic statement.

To read Howard Feinstein’s open letter click here

To read Izeta Gradevic’s response click here


'The Guard' is second at the US Box Office!!!….sort of

The Guard's Milkshake

Element Pictures The Guard phenomenal success continues as it comes second at the US Box Office in average revenue per screen in its opening weekend, trouncing blockbuster new releases such as Cowboys & Aliens and The Smurfs.

The Guard took in $80,400 across 4 screens according to for an average of $20,100 per screen,  Joe Cornish’s (Joe from comedy duo Adam and Joe) sci-fi comedy Attack the Block also out on limited release in the US this week achieved $130,000 across 8 screen for $16,250 per screen. Topping the average revenue per screen chart this past weekend is The Future directed by Miranda July taking in an impressive $28,200 on its single screen.

All three films put Cowboys & Aliens to shame as it took in a measly $9,653 per screen but a respectable $36,200,000 in total.


‘The Guard’ K.O.s Transformers, Kung Fu Panda and the X-Men

The Guard's Milkshake

The Guard has drunk the milkshake of the Transformers, the Pirates Of The Caribbean, X-Men babies, and that Kung Fu fighting Panda. The Irish film’s gross box-office to date now reaches over 2 Million Euro, making it the biggest Irish release here since The Wind that Shakes the Barley and The Guard is now on its way to becoming one of the biggest film hits of the summer, all the while working a pair of purple y-fronts.


Directed by John Michael McDonagh, The Guard is a comedy-thriller starring Brendan Gleeson as an unorthodox Irish policeman who joins forces with a straitlaced FBI agent, played by Don Cheadle, to take on an international drug-smuggling gang.


For full list of cinemas showing The Guard log on to:

The Guard is released in the US on July 29th & in the UK on August 19th.




'The Guard' is in hot pursuit of €1.5mill at the Irish Box Office

Darkly comic Irish thriller The Guard continues to storm the Irish box office with takings of €397,000 this past weekend taking its total past €1.42 million.

In a weekend that saw the final installment of  the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, break all time weekend records in North America this represents an extremely strong showing for an independent Irish feature.

The €410,000 showing earned it second place in Ireland behind the bespectacled wizard and it took in €94,000 yesterday Monday July 18th alone suggesting strong word of mouth.  It also came in at number 5 in the combined UK and Ireland box office totals.

Click here for full list of cinemas showing The Guard.

The Guard is released in the US on July 29th & in the UK on August 19th

Read our review of The Guard here


'The Guard' is number 1 at Irish box office


John Michael McDonagh’s comedy-thriller THE GUARD is a box-office smash with a weekend gross of over half a million euro, knocking BRIDESMAIDS from the coveted No 1 position. This is a fantastic result for an Irish film and its opening weekend results are comparable to other hugely successful Irish films such as MICHAEL COLLINS and IN BRUGES. THE GUARD also picked up Best Irish Feature award at the Galway Film Fleadh this weekend.

Speaking on the success of the film, Andrew Lowe of Element Pictures says that “We are thrilled that Irish people have flocked to see the Guard in such strong numbers. The international success of the Guard has been exciting but success at home is still the most gratifying. The film clearly has caught a zeitgeist and provides audiences with a welcome distraction and relief thanks to the genius of John Michael McDonagh and the brilliance of Brendan Gleeson”

THE GUARD is a comedy-thriller starring Brendan Gleeson as an unorthodox Irish policeman who joins forces with a straitlaced FBI agent, played by Don Cheadle, to take on an international drug-smuggling gang.

For full list of cinemas showing THE GUARD log on to:

THE GUARD is released in the US on July 29th & in the UK on August 19th


The Guard



DIR/WRI: John Michael McDonagh • PRO: Chris Clark, Flora Fernandez-Marengo, Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe • DOP: Larry Smith • ED: Chris Gill • DES: John Paul Kelly • CAST: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham

A potent mix of Western tropes, slick black comedy and American cop procedurals, The Guard may sound cluttered but is actually a fairly smooth concoction. It tells the story of a Garda dealing with drug runners and corruption in a modern, if still oddly timeless, Ireland. Brendan Gleeson excels as the main focus; his character-actor sensibilities complementing a leading-man flair, which has been too long dormant. Playing The General, or say Michael Collins, threatened to make him iconic, but the essaying of historical characters always dominates a role. With The Guard he is allowed to create a character from scratch and the nuances he brings to the role of Sgt. Gerry Boyle are a masterclass in how to combine pathos with biting humour. Don Cheadle’s straight-laced FBI agent is left to navigate the eccentricities of this man and provides the film with a charming fish-out-of-water dimension.

Occasionally ever so slightly self-satisfied, the film works due to its balance. Despite some heavy themes, it is never too bleak nor does its emotional core ever become too sentimental or cloying. A modern gem but not for the politically-correct crowd, that’s for sure.

Emmet O’Brien

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
The Guard is released on 8th July 2011

The Guard is in hot pursuit of €1.5million at the Irish Box Office click here to find out more.


'The Guard’ Sundance World Premiere

The Guard, received much acclaim at its world premiere in Park City, Utah as part of the prestigious Sundance film festival.  The Guard was selected as the opening film of the World Dramatic Competition at the 2011 festival.

The Los Angeles Times reported that film buyers flocked to the sold out screening ‘ moths to a flame, making it a fitting festival launch’. According to Variety ‘… it’s Gleeson who rightly owns the screen as a beer-swilling, crotch-grabbing, Derringer-firing crusader with one hell of a filthy mouth to go along with his heart of gold.’ and the director John Michael McDonagh’s ‘filmmaking crackles with energy’.

Directed by John Michael McDonagh, The Guard’s cast, includes Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges, Harry Potter, The General) Don Cheadle (Iron Man 2, Crash, Hotel Rwanda) Fionnuala Flanagan (Lost, Transamerica) Liam Cunningham (Hunger, The Wind that Shakes the Barley) and Mark Strong (KickAss, Sherlock Holmes).

The Guard is a thriller-comedy set on the west coast of Ireland where Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Gleeson)  is a small-town cop with a confrontational personality, a subversive sense of humour, a dying mother, a fondness for prostitutes, and absolutely no interest whatsoever in the international cocaine-smuggling ring that has brought FBI agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle)to his door.

The Guard is an Irish/UK co-production, backed by the Irish Film Board and Section 481 as well as International Financiers. It’s produced by Chris Clark and Flora Fernandez Marengo for Reprisal Films and Ed Guiney (Garage) and Andrew Lowe (The Wind that Shakes the Barley) for Element Pictures.

Irish audiences will get an opportunity to see The Guard in cinemas when it goes on theatrical release this summer through Element Pictures Distribution.


'The Guard' receives marketing support from EFP

The Guard by John Michael McDonagh is one of 11 European films that have been confirmed by European Film Promotion’s members to receive Film Sales Support at North America’s prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

With the continuous financial support of the MEDIA Programme of the European Union, FSS has been influential in helping bring European cinema to audiences around the world, in particular to North and South America.

Seven feature films and four documentaries are at the receiving end of the marketing support which covers up to 50% of costs for a publicist, the production of publicity material or ads in the trades. The films are being represented by seven different European sales agents and three production companies.

UK sales agent Metropolis International sales are new to FSS and will be representing The Guard at the festival.

For more details on the programme visit